Drastic Changes in Ohio for Online Schools?


The report today from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools pointed to a major study last year from Stanford University’s Center for Research of Educational Outcomes (CREDO) that found the e-school students learn far less than students in traditional schools.

“The well-documented, disturbingly-low performance by too many full-time virtual charter public schools should serve as a call to action to state leaders and authorizers across the country,”

The report continues.

The Alliance recommends several changes to e-school rules, including limiting their size, allowing only students that are the right fit to enroll in e-schools, and removing the financial interest that overseers of online schools have in keeping them open.

The Alliance also called for drastic changes in e-school funding, both by giving them only the dollars they actually spend educating kids and by possibly paying the e-schools only as students finish classes or pass tests.

Ohio, one of the three states that have the most students in online schools, is mentioned a few times in the report, though recommendations are not specifically aimed at Ohio.

Todd Ziebarth, the Alliance’s senior vice president for state advocacy and support, said Ohio needs to take action and that he hopes Gov. John Kasich will take some leadership on the issue.

“It’s time to get a lot more serious and figure out how to better govern and regulate these schools, if they’re going to continue to be options (for students),” Ziebarth said.

Neil Clark, spokesman for Ohio’s largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), called the report “a clear attack on all virtual schools.” Clark objected to using the CREDO study and an accompanying one from Mathematica Policy Research as the basis for the Alliance’s recommendations.

He said those studies are unreliable because they mixed results from different states with different rules. “Most disturbing is that this report is an attack on School Choice and limiting parent options of enrolling their children in the public school that the parent chooses,” Clark said.

Chad Aldis of the Fordham Institute, a pro-charter group that also seeks higher standards for them, said the Alliance’s recommendations should be taken seriously.

“These are people who really believe in the ability of charter schools to help students learn and progress, and they’re disturbed by the shockingly low performance,” Aldis said. “The fact that they are saying we are not doing a good job is really a testament to the fact that there’s still work to do.”

Aldis said he strongly supports the Alliance’s recommendations of limiting what students can attend e-school, instead of just opening them to all students as states do now.

He said online schools only work with very motivated and self-directed students, or students with strong parental involvement. Treating them like magnet schools and requiring applications might make sense.

The academic performance of online schools has been controversial in Ohio for several years, as two giant e-schools with low grades on state report cards keep growing larger.

The Alliance report particularly names ECOT and Ohio Virtual Academy, with 15,000 and 11,000 students each, as being too large.

E-school performance was a major issue last year when the Ohio Department of Education manipulated evaluations of charter school oversight agencies to prevent e-school failures from damaging ratings. ECOT and other charters have since campaigned to have the way they are graded on state cards changed.

State Rep. Andrew Brenner, a Powell Republican who chairs the House Education Committee, said he is still reviewing all of the report’s recommendations.

He was troubled by two – the calls to limit the size of e-schools and to lower their funding. “I don’t know that size is the reason to limit them,” Brenner said. “Based on what? There are economies of scale.”

He said that online schools, which receive about $6,000 a year from the state per student, are spending far less than big-city districts (spending about $15,000 per student) which also end up with F grades on state report cards.  

The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools said the report continues an important dialogue toward using best practices at the schools.

The CREDO report the Alliance cites found that students at e-schools in 17 states and Washington, D.C., learned less at school than similar students that stayed in traditional schools.  

For Ohio, online students learned 79 days less material in reading than peers in traditional schools and 144 less days in math, CREDO found.

Those findings placed Ohio’s online charter schools in the middle of the national pack in terms of performance.

Losing the equivalent of 180 days of learning is essentially the same as skipping school all year, James (Lynn) Woodworth, a research analyst for CREDO, told the Plain Dealer last year.  

Rob Clark

SchoolCampus.org admin staff managing editor

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